I write today to honor two more fellow basketball players and friends who recently passed away. Dennis “Dutch” Bogaczyk and James “Jimmy” Wilkerson.
I had the pleasure of playing with both, for several years, with Ron Travis’s amateur teams — Jon’s Sports and Pennsylvania Athletics. Together with many other excellent players from this area and beyond, we played a 60-game schedule for years. We played high school teams to make them tougher, tournaments all over Pennsylvania and New York, as well as at least two local leagues. Not to mention just good old pick up at the local Salvation Army every Thursday night.
Dutch and I grew particularly close as teammates and his passing, after a heroic 18-year battle with leukemia, really hurts. When he was a high school star playing ball for North Penn in Blossburg, Dutch used to tell me how he used to come to Decker Gym at Mansfield University to watch the MSU Mountie teams I was lucky enough to be a part of for four years. I find it fondly ironic that many years later, after Dutch played at Pitt-Johnstown, that we would end up playing together for so many wonderful years. I’ve always loved the camaraderie that develops while being a part of “the game,” and with Dutch, that was so very special.
It seems like only yesterday I was pushing the ball up the court, looking left then right to see my options, and there would be Dutch off to my right, just where I always knew he would be, looking for a kick-out pass, so he could let fly with one of the purest and accurate jumpers I’ve ever seen. We would good-naturedly kid Dutch in the locker room, “that he never saw a shot he did not like” and likened him to Kevin McHale, who Larry Bird fondly nicknamed “the black hole,” as once the ball went to him, you knew where it was going — up! You may as well head to the hoop for a possible rebound. But Dutch seldom missed, so you really, more often than not, just ran back on defense as the ball “tinkled the twine.”
Dutch was so much more than a great basketball player. He was a loving husband and father, and friend to so many. Despite fighting this horrible disease, he took the time to reach out to my daughter, when she was going through some rough times, who he got to know when she accompanied us to a basketball tournament and was our good luck charm! They stayed in touch, and when he passed, she said he was like a second father to her. Dutch, I miss you, my good friend. You were a true warrior.
James “Shooting-Jim” Wilkerson was a soft-spoken man and also an important member of the Travis-led teams. He was not really a basketball player — even he would have admitted that — he was a State Champion in track and field, and his athleticism was unquestioned. While not a starter, Jim could ably fill in when needed, and his athleticism often overcame any basketball skills he might be lacking.
Ron Travis gave him the moniker “Shooting Jim” when in one game — although not much of a shooter — he went off for 30 points. He never let us forget that game! Although his playing time was often limited, he never complained. I think he just thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the team and the camaraderie and good-natured ribbing that went along with that.
Jim worked in Williamsport for 40-some years and was very active in the community with the youth through coaching. He had his finger on the pulse of Billtown, and knew and was like a friend to everyone — he was just that kind of guy. Rest in peace, “Shooting Jim.”1 comment